Just wanted some feedback about starting a CBG business, any thoughts? Thxs - Ron

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Full-time or part-time? High-end or rough and primitive? Speaking as a guy that has on more than one occasion went the self employment route, I have some doubts about it feeding a family. Part-time, that is another thing. I've managed to make good chunk of change with a couple of small niche businesses that I ran (sound company and small studio)

http://folkcafe.wordpress.com/studio/

I've known a few guitar builders. The one thing they'll agree on is how difficult it is to penetrate the 6 string guitar market. CBG's are a much smaller pond. That is an advantage and disadvantage at the same time. Niche markets can be both profitable and easier to break into. The downside may be how small this market might actually be. What is the growth outlook? How would you even be able to research it? It would have to be a gut move.

As an engineer, I first started thinking about building instruments because I wanted to learn pickup design. I worked for a speaker and microphone manufacturer so it kind of completed the circle. While designing them takes a bit of thought, building them is strait forward and fairly easy. So I thought about offering custom pickups to this market but eventually decided the market for a $40-50 pickup wasn't big enough.

When I started building a few instrument, it became instantly apparent that the labor intensive nature of the process, even though I have a very well equipped shop, really puts a kink in what you could make from this. Custom built CBG's would suffer most from this. More primitive starter models would command how much? After materials, what does that leave?

Its like every hobby I start, the engineer in me takes over and begins to think about solving all the manufacturing problems that don't exist (because it is a hobby).

So I haven't really answered any questions but do point out a few you should ask yourself.
There are very few that make a living at it: Josh Gayou, John Lowe, John McNair, etc. Most are only surviving. Some do make it 'big' like the boys at Daddy Mojo. You're box really has to have a unique sound to have a name (ex: John Lowe, John McNair).

Tho you will sell a few and its great beer money [grin].

$.02

-WY
Lotsa people do it just to support the habit, or make room for new builds. Look at all the adds here on the front page. Most are for sellers od cbg's. for every one here. there's 10 more out in the www.


Matt
... and Roger Martin if I recall (Gatlinburg TN?). I think he has a shop nearby.

-WY

Randy S. Bretz said:
Ted Crocker

Wes Yates said:
There are very few that make a living at it: Josh Gayou, John Lowe, John McNair, etc. Most are only surviving. Some do make it 'big' like the boys at Daddy Mojo. You're box really has to have a unique sound to have a name (ex: John Lowe, John McNair).

Tho you will sell a few and its great beer money [grin].

$.02

-WY
i agree with randy and don on this one
there are lots of cigar box guitars available out there, it may be hard to convince people to buy yours over anyone elses. one could try to make them as cheap as possible, like i have, but then you've got to convince people that it's still worth the purchase. buyer confidence goes up greatly with a higher quality of product, but it also involves a LOT more time, effort, and costly materials.

i've got my own web site and etsy store, my own ebay account, and a small product line. but i don't even bother telling anyone here about it. i'd much rather give my guitars away as gifts to guys on this forum. i'll sell something here or there when i play out at a show, but i'm not really pushing the business side of it ... it's a tough market, and i'd prefer to wait until i was COMPLETELY ready to build/sell/support at a level that my customers would deserve.. until then i'm just laying low. or maybe i'm just lazy. perhaps it's the full time job, full time college, three small kids and the bills..?

the only way to make any success is to have something REALLY unique.

randy does awesome bone work, and he seems to do well with it, because he is a) good, and b) the only one with those specific products/skills

ted crocker has focused on workshops and pickups

johnny lowe pioneered the lowebow, and it's a very distinct build, and has become sought-after

the best bet is to build some guitars, but try to capitalize on a specific type of build or part of the production, and do it better, cheaper, or make it more easily accessible for your target consumers to get to.

on a final note, however "unique" is relative. you may find that in your direct, local area, like i have, that there is no cigar box guitar influence at all. what you have may be completely new to the people there, and you may have the perfect LOCAL market for just that sort of thing.

the internet is a rough place to start any business. working face to face may be the best way to go when trying to build and sell this kind of product.just try to build and focus on an audience or consumer group that you feel is under-represented and gear towards them.

good luck!!
While I agree that having a unique product will take you a long way, I think that as long as you can build a quality instrument, good marketing strategy would go a LONG way in making you successful. Most people don't see these very often (if they've even seen one at all) so the focus should be on building an image in the customers mind.

Still, it's not likely that you'll hit it big with this.
Ron:

I think it is a normal part of getting into this hobby to think "hell, I can make a business out of selling these!" A lot of starting builders have thought that, myself included. And it IS possible... but as the other guys point out above, it ain't easy. You really do need some kind of niche that will set your builds apart from the many builds already for sale out there. Also, preferably, something to justify (in potential buyers' minds) paying a decent price for them. There are guys out there who build for fun and let their builds go for next to nothing on eBay. Competing with that in terms of a business model requires some special niche or feature that is not easily replicable. I think it is a mistake to think that there is quick or easy money in a CBG business. It takes a lot of work to build a quality brand, establish a customer base and marketing/distribution method. I would definitely advise against quitting one's day job and jumping into a CBG business with no backup plan.

- Gitty
John Lowe's main business is a music and bookstore in Memphis called Xanadu.

I agree with what everybody on here has said - you could support your habit, or have a small part time income, but don't quit your day job.
The most successful of any of us out there is with out a doubt Daddy Mojo, They were written up in Playboy and another publication as well, his instruments have been given to well known musicians.

That is without a doubt a major factor in becoming successful in this crazy obsession called (CBG's).
I don't make a living at this. I couldn't stand to do this for a living. In fact, I've had a lot of people come to me and try to build it into something like that and I've turned them down. The last offer I had was was with Eric Turner. His band Warrant are still together and still touring but he's also a co-owner of a guitar store out where I live. We (he and his wife and me and my wife) had dinner together one evening at a concert and kicked around ideas about getting my stuff in his store but in the end I decided it wasn't really for me. It's the same reason you won't find me at NAMM. I don't have any interest in trying to turn guitars out in volume. You'll also never see me industrialize with CNC or anything like that. The whole process is incredibly personal to me and the wood has to be carved by my hands or not at all.

When I started, the idea was to sell what I could so that I could afford to make more. Nobody had ever heard of me, I had no reputation, so nothing sold until I knocked the prices down so far that I was selling at a loss. At that point things started selling and, as my rep grew, I slowly moved the prices back up to what I felt would be fair. Keep in mind I'm still selling them at a fraction of what I've seen some other guys sell their guitars for but I'm at least now getting a comfortable profit on them. Even so, after the materials and tools that I buy to reinvest back into what I do, I about break even.

In the end, that's about all you can hope for. I have a well equipped shop at my house now that has everything I need to make a hand crafted, top of the line solid body guitar and it was all paid for by CBGs. At some point, when I decide I'm finished buying tools, I'll probably use the money to take my wife and I on a cruise, but I'll never make enough to support a family or retire. My output is between 12 to 20 instruments a year (because I refuse to turn out more than that) averaging between $300 and $800 or so per instrument. So if you average that ($550) and multiply it by the best case (20), we're talking $11,000 in one year - a large portion of which is swallowed up in the parts and materials for each instrument. I easily do better than that in 2 months at my regular day job. Seriously, I have no illusions about going big time with what I do.

The biggest payoff I've gotten in doing this is being able to get really connected to the musical community. Basically, connecting with you guys. Also, all the concerts I've been involved in as a vendor or sponsor. My wife and I have gotten to spend evenings with all sorts famous performers and enjoy concerts in a way that most people only dream of. All of this has happened because, for whatever reason, other people have decided that I am cool because I make electric guitars. That's just fine with me but we all know the truth: we're really just music nerds with an off the wall hobby.

I guess the best I have for you is that doing this with a mind towards making money just isn't gonna get you anywhere. Even if you just want to fund your hobby, there's still a long, hard slog to convince people to buy your stuff. You really have to do something to set yourself apart if you want to get any steam built up. My first few guitars were sold on ebay and a lot of times the auctions would expire. These days I have so much work backed up that posting anything on eBay would just get in my way. I stopped selling bridges and custom necks for that very reason. They were fine for a money supplement when things were slow but they're just a damned distraction when you got guitars to build. Sure I'm doing alright now but I'm telling you, if I had started this out thinking I was going to make a living at it (basically only worried about trying to make money) I never would have gotten this far. I would have given up a long, long time ago in frustration. The important thing is the obsession with making instruments. Anything else that comes out of it, be it money, business, endorsements, fame, or whatever else is just a side effect of that obsession. Even if I had never gotten anywhere, if I had gotten no notoriety - if I hadn't sold a damned instrument, I'd still be right there in my shop with a hunk of wood and some hand tools.
Earlier, Josh Gayou wrote:
The important thing is the obsession with making instruments. Anything else that comes out of it, be it money, business, endorsements, fame, or whatever else is just a side effect of that obsession. Even if I had never gotten anywhere, if I had gotten no notoriety - if I hadn't sold a damned instrument, I'd still be right there in my shop with a hunk of wood and some hand tools.

Well I can tell you, you make beautiful instruments make you a very respected person here, that's for sure. There [in my humble opinion] is a short list of great builders here on the Nation and you are on that list. Thanks for your first person insight.

Cheers Josh

-WY
OK, though I love building these things and selling them I want to show you the seedy side of the business.Very recently I had to sever my relationship with my former partner due to business practices that I dont approve of among other things.
This fellow sell dulcimers, can-jos, a couple of new products that I ENCOURAGED him to sell,amps etc.No good deed goes unpunished???
I just sell basic 3 string fretless CBGS, amps and pickups.The basics that most anyone can afford in this market.
I've never sold Can-jos.
Because we're in the same building I've avoided encroaching on his part of the market.This week I was informed that he has decided he will sell CBG's too,and yes he has them is his shop.Which forces me to do what I didnt want to do and thats sell can-jo's also.
I build and sell all my own product so I can only turn out so much of whatever I sell.This guy has some one that builds for him and mostly all he does himself is sit in his shop and hawk all day.
Since he has decided the thing to do is sell what I sell, it's going to be rough.
I'm trying to set up somebody that can build the can-jo's for me as unless I give up the rest of the sleep I had already given up, I just cant crank em out fast enough.
I dont say this to complain, well maybe a little bit but to give you another side of the business you may not be aware of.'
There are unscrupulous people out there,and if you have good success like I have had the last year or so your going to have people literally trying to put you out of business.
My former partner (I'm glad I got out) is out to do me in.This is the side of business you have to look out for also.I've always tried to run an honest business and offer good service at the TIME of sale plus help and assistance later AFTER the sale if my customer needed it.Thats not my former partners way of thinking.
Anyway , its a tough business, I found quickly when I started that I couldnt sell high dollar in my market, so I sell what the market will support here.And I've done ok, so far.But I cant compete with the " bring product in in high numbers that SOMBODY ELSE built, sell it ,forget about the customer" thinking I'm competing with right now.
SO you still want to get into the business?? LOL
I started intending only to sell a few here and there, and it just exploded, it got to the point last summer that I could not build fast enough to keep up with sales, as long as I stayed true to this market.But my success has bred a copy cat that has product build else where and sells here.I cant build that fast.
So, I'm trying to line up one of us guys that has the time to build can-jo's ( that I dont even really WANT to sell ) to stay in business.
This fellow doesnt "do" the internet , he has OTHER people do it for him ,and most of his building, so I have my work cut out for me.I'm not sure if I can pull this off, I KNOW I cant by myself. So we'll see what happens.
But my intention here is to let you know that the business has a way of either going great or you find a copycat at your back door trying to cut your throat.
Good luck on whatever way you decide to sell, just be aware that its not as easy as it looks , and there are people that will want what you have if you do well, and will do whatever they have to do to get it.

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